All of us have humbling teachable moments in our lives. I have experienced one in the past few days, and I’m quite thankful for it.
GrantStation is scheduled to have a webinar on August 26 titled “Motivating Underpaid Staff.” We promoted it at the top of our most recent newsletter. Those three words turned out to be incendiary ones. We felt the need to make a statement about it on our homepage.
I will admit that when the webinar showed up on our schedule, I winced at the title. But only for a moment. I quickly appreciated the stark forthrightness of it. Generally staff in nonprofits are underpaid and have been historically. At the same time, leaders of nonprofits do want to motivate their staff to accomplish the good work to fulfill their missions, often without additional compensation. The title of this webinar doesn’t back down from that reality.
Then we got the feedback, all of it illuminating and valuable. The message was that it is problematic for us to hold a webinar with this title on this topic, without promoting practices to address the underlying issues that lead to underpaid staff in the first place. This is a fair critique!
The feedback came rolling in, partially because the complaints were aired on Twitter by key individuals and were posted on Facebook groups, such as the Nonprofit Happy Hour. I have always wanted GrantStation to go “viral” but not in this way.
So it was time to go on a “listening tour.” I decided to personally call those who were sending us messages. My goal was to gain insights and to simply hear more about what I obviously needed to learn.
- One person said that we were “promoting a scarcity model. Nonprofits have historically operated from this mindset of squeezing more out of less, and there is new energy in the nonprofit world to shift from that way of thinking and acting. GrantStation is not adding to that by holding a webinar such as this.”
- Another person said that we were “contributing to a culture of inequity with this webinar. So many of the frontline workers in the nonprofit world are BIPOC, and the reliance on non-financial motivation enables this system.”
- One caller mentioned that “there is funding for staff available, especially recently. Grantseekers just need to know how to pursue it, e.g. not considering it always general operating support, but instead factoring it as part of program support.”
These are just a few of the voices that I have heard. I plan to share more in the future and have more conversations. But the conclusion is obvious: To hold this webinar in isolation is contributing to an inequitable dynamic that exists in the nonprofit sector. We now plan to join the conversation around responsible compensation.
There are a few actions that we are taking right away.
- We are developing a free webinar about how to get grant funding for staff operations. Many nonprofits know how hard it can be to secure this type of support. However, many have been having success with it, particularly during these times. There are some best practices that we are eager to share.
- We will be conducting interviews with thought leaders who have various valuable insights on this topic. We will publish these in the Tracks to Success area of our website. We just posted our first one: Aiming for Equity in the Nonproft Sector – An interview with Vu Le of Nonprofit AF
- We are still holding this webinar. Those who have signed up for it will not suddenly have enough funds to motivate their staff with increased salaries. They need additional tools for motivation. Every responsible manager should have those tools, but not in the absence of fair financial compensation.
Throughout all this, I was reminded of our mission: to promote a civil society. We do this by mentoring grantseekers through the process of securing the funds for their good work. In order for us to fulfil this mission, we are stepping up in these ways and we look forward to hearing feedback on how we are doing.
I feel like one of the luckiest managers of customer service because our community is forthright, insightful, and respectful. The whole staff at GrantStation is incredibly grateful to everyone who took the time out of their busy days to reach out to us and share their insights. We are excited to act on it.
If anyone has any insights, critique, or feedback that they would like to share, they can contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 612-268-0124.